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In Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church, seminary professor, author, and former ...
In Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church, seminary professor, author, and former pastor Don Whitney shows us how to build a sense of community and be active participants instead of passive attendees. Whitney looks at such frequently asked questions as: Why can't I get by on my own? Why should I go to church? Why should I give of myself to the church? Why do I need to worship in church? Couldn't I just worship in nature? Why does it matter whether I become a member of the church?
Committed love must mark the local expression of the body of Christ. By putting spiritual disciplines into practice in the church, congregations can return to the depth of community present in the New Testament church, where they 'devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.'
Why Go to Church?
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I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go into the house of the Lord."
Why should I read anything about going to church?
That's a fair question since the odds are extremely high that you do go to church—otherwise you probably wouldn't be reading this book. But here's why even the most faithful churchgoer should know what's in this chapter.
First, if God has spoken in the Bible about going to church, then His Word on this matter deserves to be proclaimed faithfully and to be received reverently.
Second, those of us who attend church need to evaluate our reasons and make sure that our basis for going is not habit alone. Do you go to church for biblical reasons? Do you know the biblical reasons? We've all heard that we should go to church, but have you ever heard that appeal based upon Scripture?
Third, church attendance may be a settled matter for many Christian adults reading this, but your children may not be convinced that going to church is for them. So although you may not need persuading in this matter, the information in this chapter can be useful for you in talking to them.
Fourth, some who are reading these words attend church only occasionally. A survey conducted in 1991 reported that one of every eight people who describe themselves as "born-again Christians" do not go to church. Anyone who claims to follow Christ but seldom, if ever, attends His church needs to be challenged with what the Bible says about going to church.
Fifth, there may be others turning these pages who are thinking about giving up on church altogether. Even though you may have been faithful in church for a long time, you are no longer sure about continuing. You, too, need the biblical challenge and reasoning to stay in church.
Did you go to church last Sunday? If you did, you are in the minority of Americans. Although America has one of the highest percentages of churchgoers of any nation, more than half the people in this country did not go to church this past Lord's Day.
Ask why people don't attend church, and you'll get a variety of responses, but most of them fall into about a dozen categories. Some say they don't go to church because they are turned off by what seems an endless asking for money. Others stay away because church services bore them. A percentage of those who have no interest in church say the sermons are irrelevant to their lives. Some refuse to go because when they do attend they leave feeling guilty.
Numbers of people stay home because Sunday is their only day off and they want to spend it doing other things. On the other hand, some can't be at church because they are working. Additionally, there are always those who are absent from church because of bad experiences with churches in the past. Many say that the only reason they do not go is that they have not been invited, and they would feel uncomfortable going alone.
A few stay away because they think their lifestyle is too unacceptable to the expectations of churchgoers. A lot of folks are convinced the church simply has nothing to offer them. Similarly, many admit that they don't have enough interest in religion to attend church. And one of the most common reasons given why people don't go to church is that there just isn't time.
It doesn't take all twelve of these arguments to keep someone from church. Usually one of them weighs heavily enough on the scales of a person's judgment to decide the issue. But even for the believer who is persuaded by one of these, with the happiness of this life and all eternity at stake, it's worth considering what the Bible has to say on the other side of the matter.
Here are twelve biblical reasons for going to church.
GOING TO CHURCH IS A BIBLICAL REQUIREMENT FOR ALL CHRISTIANS
A recent major survey of a cross section of Americans shows that almost half (47 percent) agree that "the Bible does not command people to attend a church; that is a man-made requirement." In fact, the Bible is very plain: "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24–25, italics added).
Referring to the public meeting of the church body, this verse clearly tells believers not to forsake the regular assembly of fellow Christians, but rather to go to church.
This command wasn't given whimsically. The author recognized what these Jewish Christians were facing. In their place and time, to identify themselves openly (as through church attendance) with other followers of Christ meant persecution, the seizure of property, and possibly imprisonment (Hebrews 10:34). But the inspired writer of this letter knew that more important than those potential losses were the certain benefits gained through gathering with God's faithful.
If this chapter ended here, no further proof would be needed concerning God's will about church attendance. God has spoken in this passage about the matter, and the issue should be settled. Ultimately, whether or not you go to church is a question of whether you will obey God and submit to the authority of His Word.
Do you profess to be a Christian? It is dangerously deceptive to think, "as is the manner of some," that you can get the salvation and security of heaven you need through the message of the church and then withdraw, "forsaking the assembling" of the fellowship. The church is not a department store where you come and get the spiritual commodity you want, then go your way. To speak of loving Christ while neglecting His body, the church (Ephesians 1:23; 4:12, 15–16; 5:29–30), is hypocritical.
GOING TO CHURCH HELPS PREVENT BACKSLIDING AND APOSTASY
The great concern of the writer of Hebrews 10:25 was that a spiritualerosion was taking place within those who had gotten into the habit of neglecting the meetings of the church. He knew that if they continued to shun the public worship of God with the people of God they would be in danger of spiritual ruin.
Neglect of church attendance is almost always one of the first outward signs of backsliding and one of the initial steps taken by those whose path ends in complete apostasy. Statistics show that if you don't go to church for a month, the odds are almost two-to-one that you won't go for more than a year. Without the encouragement to persevere that is provided by the public worship of God, the preaching of the Word of God, and the fellowship of the people of God, there is a much greater tendency to drift spiritually.
A couple in our church recently told me how several years of infrequent church attendance had withered their spiritual lives. A family tragedy prompted them to return to faithfulness. Once back in church, a spiritual snowball effect has happened. Their personal devotional lives, family relationships, service for the Lord, and more have all experienced renewal as by-products of the biblical exhortation and Christian encouragement they've received by returning to active involvement with the church family.
Of course, church attendance is no automatic guarantee against spiritual setbacks. No Christian progresses in faith with perfect consistency. But without going to church, backsliding—or worse—is almost a certainty. In fact, based upon Hebrews 10:25, "forsaking the assembling of ourselves together" actually is backsliding. If you can miss church and not miss church, then something is absent from your heart and faith.
GOING TO CHURCH BRINGS SPIRITUAL FELLOWSHIP AND ENCOURAGEMENT
A summary of the regular activities of the first-ever Christian church (which was in Jerusalem) is recorded in Acts 2:42: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." This verse tells us that one of the four main characteristics of the church's gatherings was "fellowship."
In Hebrews 10:25 again, when we're told, "Let us not give up meeting together," the desired contrasting response is "but let us encourage one another" (NIV). No Christian can thrive without the two spiritual nutrients mentioned here of fellowship and encouragement. God has made us to need them. And it is also God's plan for us to receive most of our fellowship and encouragement from the local church family.
Fellowship is more than socializing; it is qualitatively different. Any two people can socialize. Only Christians can fellowship, at least in the biblical sense. Socializing is a gift from God. It is the setting where fellowship happens; nevertheless, fellowship exceeds socializing in beauty and enjoyment as does spring's tulip over winter's bulb.
New Testament fellowship involves the sharing of the Christian life with other followers of Christ. Talking about the things of God with each other, telling and hearing testimonies of the work of the Spirit of God in our lives, serving the Lord and His people together, worshiping God and praying as one people, extending to and receiving from one another the love of Christ—these are the fibers of the fabric of fellowship. The best way for it to be woven into our lives is through involvement with a church family.
When we go to church, we can receive encouragement from the preaching and the teaching of God's Word (see Romans 15:4–5). We can be encouraged by the perseverance of other believers who are buoyant in their faith despite discouraging circumstances, by the example of more mature believers, by other church members who struggle successfully with some of the same daily issues we face, and by praying and singing the praises of God with others.
If a child is going to be emotionally healthy, he needs the socialization and encouragement a family can provide. In the same way, every child of God needs the fellowship and encouragement that God intends for him to receive from a church family if he is going to be spiritually healthy.
GOING TO CHURCH EXPRESSES OBEDIENCE TO THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT
In Mark 12:28–30, a man asked Jesus, "'Which is the first commandment of all?' And Jesus answered him, 'The first of all the commandments is: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." This is the first commandment.'"
How can we believe we're trying to fulfill the greatest of all God's commandments, and how can we say we want to love the Lord our God with all that we are, if we won't even obey His command to meet regularly with other Christians? How can we say that we love Him with everything that's in us if we can't get out of bed to worship Him with His people?
Is God your greatest love and highest priority? Going to church is one way of demonstrating that. A quick, unreluctant willingness to turn your back on the worship of God in order to work, attend ballgames (including children's ballgames), entertain guests, participate in recreational sports, and so forth, may indicate to family, friends, and others that God really is not your first love. Or it may indicate that you are willing to let those who do not love God or care about His kingdom's activities determine your priorities, set your schedule, and keep you from the worship and work of God.
In high school I played four sports. My parents came to every game in every sport, no matter how inconvenient the timing or how far the drive, except the out-of-town Sunday baseball games that were scheduled at a time requiring that they miss church. Because they came to all other games, I knew they loved me. But because they didn't come to the ones that conflicted with the worship of God, I knew they loved Him more than they loved me, and that was critical for me to know and see.
Francois Fénelon was the court preacher for King Louis XIV of France in the 1600s. One Sunday the king and his attendants made their grand entrance into the chapel, only to discover that no one else was there.
"What does this mean?" King Louis demanded.
"I had published that you would not be here today," Fénelon replied, "in order that Your Majesty might see who serves God in truth and who flatters the king."
We should go to church because we love God more than anyone or anything else.
GOING TO CHURCH FOLLOWS JESUS' EXAMPLE
Do you want to be like Jesus? Do you realize that Jesus made it His regular practice to attend the public worship of God the Father with the people of God?
The Bible tells us in Luke 4:16, "And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day ..." Granted, Jesus was participating in the Jewish worship of God, but it was the way God had ordained worship at the time. The principle remains the same: If we are to be like Jesus, then like Him we will attend the public worship of God as ordained by God for our day, along with others who want to obey God and be like Jesus.
Many people who don't go to church object that they have many other things to do. Yet the people who are the most faithful in church attendance have as much to do as anyone else. Everyone always has something that needs to be done at home, at school, at work, in the yard, with the car, with the children, etc. If people came to church only when they had nothing else to do, most churches would be empty on Sundays!
But considering Jesus' example of attending public worship eliminates the excuse of being too busy for church. Jesus also had countless crucial things He could have been doing rather than attending worship. He even had spiritual and eternal reasons He could have given for not having time for corporate worship. Jesus had the kingdom of God to build, many people to change, needs to meet, diseases to heal, and numberless other demands upon His time. People by the thousands were almost always clamoring for His attention, pleading for His mercy, begging for His help, and crying for Him to heal them. And yet, Jesus refused to let these incessant and very important supplications keep Him from attending public worship. He did not use this daily, unrelenting job stress as an excuse to avoid crowds and to stay away from the group of people gathered to worship God.
If Jesus believed that participating in public worship was that important, so should we.
GOING TO CHURCH IS A TESTIMONY OF SUPPORT FOR GOD'S WORK IN THE WORLD
Jesus taught this by implication when He said in Matthew 12:30, "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad."
Are you with Christ or against Him? Are you with Him in gathering people into His family—the church—or are you scattering people from Him? Jesus allows for only two kinds of people in this statement. Each of us is either with Him as a gatherer or against Him as a scatterer.
"I'm not against You, Jesus!" many nonattenders would protest. But the example of their lives denies their professed loyalty. The work of the church is the work of gathering. Going to church testifies that you support such work. When you stay away, you not only fail to support this work of gathering, you actually work against it like a scatterer. You scatter those such as your family and friends who might be gathered under the influence of Christ's work if you attended church.
"I don't have to go to church to show that I support Christ's work!" comes the objection. "I give to Christian causes and do Christian service." But people know where you go Sunday morning. They see you going to church while they are out exercising, gardening, or getting their newspapers. They see by this what's important to you and that you are committed to the support of God's work in this world. This is part of the work of gathering. Staying away from church does not help gather people to Jesus.
GOING TO CHURCH ENABLES YOU TO HEAR IN PERSON THE PREACHING OF GOD'S WORD
God has ordained preaching. To those He has called to this ministry He gives the command: "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:2–4).
Since God commanded that His Word be preached, then He means for the preached Word to be heard. Going to church is the best way to listen to the preaching of God's Word.
"But," someone objects, "I can hear God's Word preached just as well on radio or television or tapes!"
Yes, Christians (as well as non-Christians) who are unable to attend church can experience the proclamation of the truth of God when they might have missed it otherwise. Through such ministries many Christians find additional edification to supplement the preaching and teaching they hear in church.
Excerpted from Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church by Donald S. Whitney. Copyright © 1996 Donald S. Whitney. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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2. Why Seek Baptism in the Church?
3. Why Join a Church?
4. Why Listen to Preaching in the Church?
5. Why Worship with the Church?
6. Why Witness with the Church?
7. Why Serve in the Church?
8. Why Give to the Church?
9. Why Attend the Ordinances of the Church?
10. Why Fellowship with the Church?
11. Why Pray with the Church?
12. Why Learn in the Church?
13. Why Research the Church?